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Driving – where do you start?

By PATRICIA DEMERS - Horsetrader columnist - June 19th, 2014 - Feature Article

Second in a series

You’ve decided that driving a horse and vehicle sounds interestin. You want to try it. How do you get started?

This is a common question, and the best answer is to find a trainer or instructor who specializes in driving. Take a few lessons to see what it’s all about before you go out and buy your own equipment. Most trainers who drive tend to specialize in different types of driving — from draft horses, pleasure or carriage type, or even horse breed type such as Morgans, Arabians, and Saddlebreds. Some are more competition-oriented, and some are more into having fun and going “down the road” types. Pick a personality that suits your needs, desires and equine type.

The search for a trainer might start by asking some horse friends or the local horse vet for recommendations, and searching websites and perusing magazines like Horsetrader (look in the trainer’s section and upcoming events to look for driving events) is helpful. Another good resource is the American Driving Society American (drivingsociety.org), or the Carriage Association of America (caaonline.com), for references. Go to the library and research some information on carriage driving. There are a lot of really wonderful instructional books available.

When you do find a trainer or instructor, watch a few lessons and talk to their students. People who are into driving are very friendly and love sharing their interest in this sport. Don’t be afraid to try different trainers, as you may find a teaching style that suits your personality and skill level better. Some trainers have lesson horses, and others may require you to provide your own horse. Just be sure to ask.

In your first lesson, you may expect to start with a lesson on how to harness, hitch to a cart, as well as the simple basics of turn left (“haa”), turn right (“gee”), whoa, and giddy-up, and how to use a whip properly. You must learn to walk and have control before you trot!

Whether you are an experienced horse person or it’s your first time with horses, it’s a good idea to learn to drive with instruction to be safe! This is especially important when it comes to harnessing and hitching. Speaking of safety, you always want to use safe practices when dealing with horses. Your parents didn’t just hand you the keys to the car before you got your drivers’ license, they taught you by slow steps that built your skills gradually until you were ready and confident to drive by yourself. This process of learning carriage driving is no different. Be safe, proceed slowly, gain knowledge, be patient, and please consider wearing a helmet when driving.

As with all horse activities, you need to wear appropriate footwear. A pair of nice leather or synthetic gloves is suggested for driving to give yourself more grip on the reins/lines. A helmet is ALWAYS a good idea.


Patricia Demers is a trainer based in Lancaster, CA, who specializes in carriage driving. You can submit questions or reach Trish at: driving@horsetrader.com.

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